College Sports

SIUE’s Harris wastes no time rebuilding the Cougars

First-year head coach Jon Harris, a native of Edwardsville, has turned over his roster with seven new players for the 2015-16 season. The Cougars open at home Friday night at 8 p.m. against Arkansas State.
First-year head coach Jon Harris, a native of Edwardsville, has turned over his roster with seven new players for the 2015-16 season. The Cougars open at home Friday night at 8 p.m. against Arkansas State. Courtesy SIUE Athletics

Within a half hour of his formal introduction as the eighth head men's basketball coach in Southern Illinois University Edwardsville history, Jon Harris had changed into a jogging suit and gotten down to the business of making the Cougars his own.

Eighth months later, on the eve of his regular season debut, the sweeping turnover on both the staff and roster is as plain the cherry red of the Cougars' new road uniforms.

Harris had the entire coaching staff replaced by June 24 and, as of their first official practice Oct. 9, the Cougars have eight new pieces on their 14-man roster.

"It's almost an entirely new roster," said Harris, a graduate of Edwardville High School and former Marquette University standout. "We won't have the experience of players who are established, but having the clean slate and guys who are excited about the chance to play can be a good thing.

"Sometimes, if you inherit a senior-laden team or top-heavy team it's tough because guys who are older can be set in their ways and fight change. We don't have that because everyone is new."

In their seventh and final year under Forrester, the Cougars were 12-16, despite winning of 11 of their 14 games on the home court. Ohio Valley Conference coaches clearly don't expect much better — they picked SIUE to finish last in the West Division.

On the other hand, Harris' Cougars don't give pollsters much on which to base their predictions.

We won't have the experience of players who are established, but having the clean slate and guys who are excited about the chance to play can be a good thing.

Jon Harris, SIUE first-year men’s basketball coach

KEY LOSSES

SIUE lost its fourth all-time leading scorer, Kris Davis, to graduation. At 14.3 points per game, he was the only player on the team to average in double figures. Top rebounder Keaton Jackson (7.9 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.1 blocks), four-year starter Michael Messer (7.7 points) and Rozell Nunn (26.4 minutes, 9.4 points), also graduated.

Donivine Stewart, who could have returned as the Cougars' starting point guard, transferred with his wife and new baby to Portland State, which visits Vadalabene Center Dec. 12.

The departures leave just two returning players — seniors Jake Newton and Grant Fiorentinos — who earned starts last season, each with two. Neither are projected starters this year, either. Of the starting five in the Cougars' preseason game against Fontbonne Monday, just two were even on the roster when the season ended at the OVC Tournament in March.

That means playing time and starting jobs will remain open to competition for the time being.

"We've got 11 eligible players and nothing is promised to any of them," Harris said. "It's too early to set things in stone for a young team. Guys are still trying to find their way and we switch our teams every day at practice to keep things as competitive as we can."

In a preseason poll of Ohio Valley Conference coaches, SIUE was picked to finished last in the West Division. The Cougars also got the lowest point total overall, 22 behind fifth-place Austin Peay.

KEY PIECES

While no starting position on the court is cinched, sophomore C.J. Carr, who average 6.2 points in 17.7 minutes per game, clearly brings the most experience at point guard.

"C.J. has a real good feel for the game and how to play the game, which is a big plus for me as a first-year coach," Harris said. "It helps me to have a floor general who can see what I see and understand what he needs to do to get the ball where it needs to go."

He'll be joined in the back court by Barak Eslik,a junior transfer from Lewis and Clark Community College. The 6-foot-4, 185-pound native of Istanbul, Turkey led Lewis and Clark with 15.8 points and 4.1 rebounds as a sophomore.

Also new the roster is Yemi Makanjuola, a 6-foot-10, 260-pound transfer from North Carolina-Wilmington. He spent two seasons on scholarship there, though never played a minute for the Seahawks.

He originally was recruited to Tennessee by Harris, who at the time was an assistant in Knoxville under Cuonzo Martin. In his sophomore season for the Vols, Makanjuloa appeared in 28 games, averaging 2.3 points and 2.8 rebounds.

"He's graduated academically, but has a year left to play,” Harris said. “He can score around the rim, but he's also a good defender and rebounder. He is a great big, physical presence inside."

Sophomore forward Jalen Henry, signed two years ago out of Springfield Southwest, impressed in limited minutes last season and will be counted on to contribute in the front court, Harris said.

True freshman Carlos Anderson was a recruited out of Alton High School by Forrester, but is the prototypical player for the system Harris likes to run.

"He's a guy that, had I been here last year, we would have been fighting tooth and nail to get him to sign because he fits what we want to do to a T," Harris said. "We're trying to get him a little more aggressive on the offensive end because he's capable of doing some things. Even right now, as a true freshman, he's probably our best defender."

MOVING PARTS

While Anderson, Carr, Eslik, Henry, and Makanjuloa have unofficially been tabbed as the Cougars’ starting five for Friday night’s opener, minutes will be shared generously, Harris said.

"We played 11 in our exhibition game. There will be nights where we do that," Harris said.

The up-tempo style of defense Harris hopes to introduce, in fact, depends on a lot of depth, which Harris says will be a strength at SIUE.

"We're not necessarily looking to lean on one or two guys night in and night out," Harris said. "We don't have enough experience on our roster to be able to push and count on a couple of individuals. It's something we'll do by committee. But we've got good depth, which is a great thing for me, especially in the first year."

Balancing out the roster of eligible players are senior Mike Chandler, junior Devin Thornton, senior Connor Wheeler, and sophomore Keenan Simmons.

Tre Harris, a sophomore transfer from Kansas State and graduate of Edwardsville, must sit out this season, as will junior Glen Pierre, a 6-foot-11 center who transferred from the College of Charleston.

Junior Josh White, another former Edwardsville Tiger, transferred to SIUE from South Dakota State and will join the Cougars as a walk-on. He’ll be eligible to play after Jan. 1.

Todd Eschman: 618-239-2540, @tceschman

NAME

YEAR

HEIGHT

WEIGHT

POSITION

Mike Chandler

Senior

6-8

205

F

Burak Eslik

Junior

6-4

185

G

Devin Thornton

Junior

6-5

225

F

Tre Harris *

Sophomore

6-5

195

G

C.J. Carr

Sophomore

5-7

145

G

Grant Fiorentinos

Senior

6-10

225

F/C

Carlos Anderson

Freshman

6-4

205

G

Glen Pierre *

Junior

6-11

230

C

Yemi Makanjuloa

Graduate

6-10

260

C

Jake Newton

Senior

6-6

200

F

Josh White *

Junior

6-1

185

G

Connor Wheeler

Senior

6-2

180

G

Jalen Henry

Sophomore

6-8

220

F

Keenan Simmons

Sophomore

6-6

185

F

(*- ineliglbe due to transfer rules)

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